I’ve had five or six posts in mind each of the last several days. Instead of post them I’ve spent time with Claudia working around the house and buying bedding plants. I’ve also spent hours reading to Clauda. I finally finished reading a book this year just a hair before the half way point. Dead Wake is, as I predicted, fantastic. I’ve added it to my old webpages’s reading list the first and only book completed this year.
Larson is a fantastic writer and this book appealed to me because of my interest in my Grandfather who enlisted in World War I at the age of 30 while a high school principal. Years later, after winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, he told the then twelve year old me that the worst mistake he’d ever made “in my life” was voting for a Democrat who promised to keep America out of War but didn’t keep it.
I’ve puzzled over that statement ever since. After reading Dead Wake I think I’ve put my finger on something. He was passing down trite old Republican cant that had resonated with Republicans since the Great War through the Second World War and Korea. They could blame Democrats for getting the US involved because Democrats had been president at the outset of each. Only the Second World War was truly “popular” if that’s the right word. Stud’s Terkel wrote a book that summarized this attitude “The Good War.” I left a book mark in my copy of it at page 176. Only four hundred and one pages left to go.
But my Grandfather was most likely reporting a lifetime’s worth of thinking about that war, his war. Afterwards America was disillusioned with the results of the “war to end all wars.” Most Americans believed that the European Allies we fought with made the Second World War inevitible by treating Germany so badly. That made our participation in the first world war as problematic as the First Gulf War which, it could be argued, led to the Second Gulf War, Afghanistan, 9-11, and a host of jihadists leading up to today’s ISIS.
After reading Dead Wake I’d bet that my all too eager to volunteer Grandfather felt some exhilaration at the prospect of evening the score with German submarines. If so, it took him some time to work up his disgust with Woodrow Wilson. But that would have been a little too much nuance to pass on to a junior high grandson thus he left me with a simplistic view of his thinking. He told my Mother some far more interesting things about his experiences in the years that she visited him in his nursing home.
Claudia and I got through two-thirds of two other books this year before dropping them. Its no sin to do this although I have been conditioned to “clean my plate.” We just started a new book “Wild Swans” about three generations of Chinese Women. I only realized the author also penned an acclaimed history of Mao tse Tung that I have sitting on a shelf waiting for me to get to. The first twenty-four pages were fascinating. Foot binding was described in gruesome detail. Toenails keep growing into the soft rotting flesh of the sole ever afterwards.
I will pause in my reading because Claudia is heading off to spend some more time with her Father. That may afford me the time to whittle away the many stacks of paper that have been accumulating in my new office. I need to see it again unobstructed to assure myself that it was worth all the effort to fix up our attic.